Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6 "Pathetique"
The old joke about Tchaikovsky's symphonies -- that he wrote three but numbered them four, five, and six -- may slight the composer's earlier orchestral works and the later "Manfred" Symphony. Still, these three are his most popular by far, and with equal doses of excitement and gorgeous melodies, it's small wonder that audiences flock to hear them. The Fourth begins with a brassy "fate" theme (fate becomes an increasing fixation in these scores) that flows into an extended yet stunningly concentrated movement. The Fifth, too, opens with a fate motive, but this time from the dark depths of the orchestra. The Sixth is the most inconsolable -- and beautiful -- of all. Emerging from even gloomier mists than the Fifth, the opening movement charts a path of psychological struggle and takes in one of Tchaikovsky's most achingly lovely melodies. Yevgeny Mravinsky led the Leningrad Philharmonic with an iron fist, sculpting it into an impressive ensemble, and this classic Deutsche Grammophon set from the early '60s is one of the few they made in the West. Mravinsky's musicians produce an unmistakably Russian sound, and while some may object to the slightly shrill trumpets, horns with vibrato, and the somewhat rough-toned woodwinds, there can be no complaints about the conductor's exacting interpretations, or the power of his performances.